Greenland, USA and the controversial World Cup classification

The classification USA achieved for Egypt 2021 by the IHF, aroused disagreement in Greenland, where they consider it unfair.

The classification for the 2021 World Cup in Egypt were hit by shocks and suspensions. And the failure in organizing the Qualifying Tournament corresponding to the North American and Caribbean Handball Confederation (NACHC), due to the COVID-19 pandemic, brought one more controversy to the handball world: the International Handball Federation (IHF) decided to designate USA as a participant in the 27th World Cup, integrating Group E together with Norway, Austria and France.

How did the IFH reach to this decision? The suspension of the tournament, which was to take place in Mexico, led the IHF to indicate which team will participate in the World Cup, as established in Article 2, subsection 2.8 of the IHF Competition Regulations:

“If the team from a Federation that has qualified for the World Cup does not participate, the IHF Executive Committee will decide on the respective substitute nation. If a Continental Confederation does not use its performance or mandatory places, the IHF Executive Committee will decide on the reallocation of said places“.

Voices from the Kalaallit Nunaat

Akutaaneq Kreutzmann celebrating in front of the Greenlandic crowd at the Nuuk Pan Am. Photo: Grønlands Håndbold Forbund.

From Das Handball, we reached Akutaaneq Kreutzmann and Aqqalu Ingemann, current players of the Greenlandic national team, and with Muusaaraan Osteman, former player. Although everyone agrees in their dissatisfaction with the decision made by the IHF, Kreutzmann was blunter with his opinion: “Politics always wins. We cannot make money for the IHF, so we lost.” The representative islander was training 4 times a week and the decision to confirm the World Cup place for USA dashed hopes that they will play a World Cup again. His last participation was in Germany 2007, finishing in twenty-second position.

Osteman, unsatisfied, considers that the IHF resolution does not see the sporting result of Greenland in the last continental tournaments: “It is sad. Greenland has clearly demonstrated that it is better than USA. The results speak for themselves”, highlights the current journalist of the nation belonging to the Kingdom of Denmark. The division of the Pan American Federation, in 2018, into two entities (NORCA -North America and the Caribbean- and COSCABAL -South and Central America-) was the first step to give USA importance at the continental level. What the American nation can bring to handball is a great economic and media market. The IHF aims to increase the impact of the sport on a massive level and they believe the decision to qualify them directly to Egypt 2021 will help this. The main purpose is to maintain the Olympic square that the sport has.

Aqqalu Ingemann beating the defense of Paraguay. Photo: Grønlands Håndbold Forbund.

“The decision that USA is classified for the World Cup just shows that it’s all about money”, Ingemann reflects. The US team will return to the ecumenical events after coming out last, out of 24 selected, in France 2001. This tournament was the first one played by Greenland, replacing Cuba, and finished in 20th place. “The word sportsmanship no longer exists,” says the Greenlandic left wing. Another controversy that brought this decision was the call, through Twitter, of the American Federation to its players, asking them to send 15-minute videos in which they must show their technical and motor skills, plus other requirements, among which a health protocol stands out. This measure is in its final stage, since the aforementioned will be notified on December 5.

Ingemann believes that this is done because USA “is not yet a handball nation”; but he also thinks that they are doing their job and wishes the best to his friends from the US team in Egypt 2021: “I hope they fight and show that handball in USA is also growing.” In a completely opposite vein, Kreutzmann believes that the measure of players submitting videos for coaches to review is “amateurish and just stupid. This kills the spirit of the game”.

Why this resolution?

As the Tournament was not played, the IHF decided to keep the place for NORCA and assign it to USA. How is this justified? According to the international body, there are three important points:

  • They consider USA a very important nation to be able to develop handball, on a continental and global level, both from a sports and marketing point of view.
  • As the 2028 Olympics will be held in Los Angeles, they believe it is convenient for USA to have a strong national team as the host team, and playing the World Cup will help this.
  • USA was the “best ranked NORCA” team at the Panamerican Games in Lima 2019, achieving 6th place.

A very important edge emerges from the last of these three points: is it okay to consider the position in the Panamerican Games and not in the last continental tournament played? To my understanding, no. Why? Mainly, because Greenland is at a disadvantage compared to USA: the nation located in the northeastern part of North America cannot play this tournament, since it is not a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or the Panamerican Sports Organization (PASO); USA is a member.

If we follow this criterion, USA has no right to participate in the World Cup. Looking at the final positions of the last Pan American Games, there are two teams of this Federation above the US team: Mexico and Cuba. Considering that the NORCA World Cup Classifications was supposed to be held in Mexico, the Mexican nation becomes the best located in the region, for the fourth place achieved in Lima 2019. Likewise, the final table of a tournament cannot be considered which is not classifying for a World Cup.

Muusaaraan Osteman during the television broadcast of the 2018 Pan American Championship.

The last continental tournament disputed by Greenland was the Panamerican one they organized in 2018, in which they achieved fourth place. In time, it is quite a long way off because it was qualifying for Germany-Denmark 2019. So, what should they have based on to make the decision? In sports performance. Although USA, throughout history, has seven podiums (two silver and five bronze medals), in recent years the team got relegated. The Greenlandic team, meanwhile, achieved two third places and was always a tough stumbling block for the South American teams.

Regarding the 10 games they played against each other, there are nine Greenlandic victories and one American triumph, 24-14 at the 1998 Panamerican, in the first match against each other. In other words, Greenland has been at a higher level than USA for 22 years, be it on a continental or global level. The only World Cup match was in France 2001: Greenland beat USA 26-18, for the fourth round of Group C. During the 2018 Pan American, Greenland proved to be really close to classifying for the last World Cup; but their fourth place in Nuuk, the nation’s capital, left them empty-handed. It was the first tournament organized there and they fell to Chile 36-39, for third place and the last ticket to Germany-Denmark 2019.

Angutimmarik Kreutzmann during the 2007 World Cup in Germany, the last one Greenland played. Photo: Alex Heimken.

“My last Panam as a player was in 2016. Then I was on television, as a commenter, during the Panam 2018 here in Nuuk. It was a fantastic event,” Osteman recalls. While Ingemann highlights that the realization of the event and the performance of the team served as an impetus: “We are a very small nation. Only 56,000 inhabitants. We saw how popular handball became after the Nuuk Games and how good it was for him. community drive. So, it’s a very sad decision”.

From that squad that was present at the 2007 World Cup in Germany to this one, six members remain: Miki Heilmann, Andreas Lorentzen, Eqalunnguaq Kristiansen, Johannes Groth, Minik Dahl Hoegh and Angutimmarik Kreutzmann, Akutaaneq’s older brother. These players were joined by several young people with a good handball level. The unfair decision by the IHF deprived Greenland’s perhaps best generation of handball players from taking their nation back to the World Cup after 14 years. Meanwhile, USA has a guaranteed presence in three World Cups: Egypt 2021, Croatia-Denmark-Norway 2027, the first to be held by 3 nations together, and Germany 2027. For the IHF, the show business must continue.

Lucas Thiele

Cualquier similitud con la realidad es pura coincidencia.

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